The Science Behind Eczema: Unravelling the Mysteries of a Common Skin Condition

By Sele Jawa (SJ) - July 10, 2023
The Science Behind Eczema: Unravelling the Mysteries of a Common Skin Condition

What is Eczema?

Eczema, scientifically known as atopic dermatitis, is a prevalent chronic skin condition affecting millions worldwide. It is characterized by dry, itchy, and inflamed skin, often leading to discomfort and significantly impacting a person's quality of life. While Eczema can affect individuals of all ages, it is particularly common in children, with many outgrowing the condition as they get older. About 10 to 20% of children are estimated to suffer from this skin condition. Understanding the basics of Eczema is essential for recognizing its symptoms, managing flare-ups, and seeking appropriate treatment.

In this article, we will look at different aspects of Eczema. We will look at the common symptoms of Eczema and then how Eczema is caused according to the current scientific evidence, which will lead us to the discussion of the available treatments for Eczema. The final section will examine myths, facts, and commonly asked questions about Eczema.

Common Eczema Symptoms.

The symptoms of Eczema can vary from person to person and can change over time. A person may have one of the following symptoms or a combination of multiple symptoms. The most common symptoms of Eczema include:

  • Dry, itchy skin
  • Redness
  • Swelling
  • Blisters
  • Scaling
  • Crusts
  • Cracks
  • Infection

In addition to the symptoms above, Eczema can be very frustrating and difficult to live with. It can cause significant discomfort and sleep disturbances. Sometimes, it can also lead to social isolation and anxiety, especially when peers mock the skin appearance of the affected. The psychological impacts of Eczema are generally prevalent in individuals older enough to understand the effects of the comments directed toward them from their peers.

Science Behind Eczema

While Eczema is a multifaceted condition influenced by various factors, including genetics, the immune system, and environmental triggers, the exact science behind its development and manifestations continues to be an active area of research. In this article, we delve into the scientific understanding of Eczema, shedding light on the factors contributing to its onset, which will allow us to explore the possible treatments of Eczema.
  • Genetic Predisposition

A genetic predisposition is one of the key factors in the development of Eczema. Individuals with a family history of Eczema, allergies, or asthma are more likely to develop the condition. Researchers have identified several genes associated with Eczema, with the filaggrin gene variation being one of the most significant. Filaggrin plays a crucial role in maintaining the skin's barrier function, and mutations in this gene can impair the skin's ability to retain moisture, making it more susceptible to dryness and irritants.


  • Skin Barrier Dysfunction

In individuals with Eczema, the skin barrier is compromised, allowing irritants, allergens, and microbes to penetrate more easily. The outermost layer of the skin, known as the stratum corneum, acts as a protective barrier, preventing excessive water loss and shielding the skin from external substances. However, this barrier is disrupted in eczema patients, increasing moisture loss and susceptibility to irritants.


  • Immune System Dysfunction

The immune system also plays a crucial role in Eczema. In a healthy immune response, immune cells defend against harmful pathogens while maintaining a delicate balance to prevent excessive inflammation. In people with Eczema, there is an abnormal immune response characterized by increased levels of certain immune cells and heightened inflammation. This chronic inflammation contributes to the characteristic redness, swelling, and itching associated with Eczema.


  • Environmental Triggers

Various environmental factors can trigger or exacerbate eczema symptoms. Common triggers include exposure to allergens such as dust mites, pollen, pet dander, and certain foods. Irritants like harsh soaps, detergents, fragrances, and chemicals can also worsen eczema symptoms. Additionally, extreme temperatures, low humidity, and stress can contribute to flare-ups.


  • The Gut-Skin Connection

Emerging research suggests a connection between gut health and Eczema. The gut microbiome, a complex community of microorganisms residing in the digestive tract, plays a vital role in regulating the immune system and maintaining overall health. Imbalances in the gut microbiome, such as a reduced diversity of beneficial bacteria, have been associated with an increased risk of Eczema. Although further research is needed, probiotics and prebiotics, which promote a healthy gut microbiome, have shown promise in alleviating eczema symptoms.


Advances in Treatment

There are various treatments as far as Eczema is concerned. Eczema treatment options aim to alleviate symptoms, reduce inflammation, repair the skin barrier, and prevent flare-ups. Emollients and moisturizers help hydrate and protect the skin, while topical corticosteroids and immunomodulators can be used to manage inflammation. In severe cases, systemic medications or phototherapy may be recommended.

Exciting advancements in eczema research include targeted biologics therapies that specifically inhibit immune molecules involved in the inflammatory response. These therapies show promise in reducing symptoms and improving the quality of life for individuals with moderate to severe Eczema.


Myth, Facts, and Frequent Asked Questions (FAQs) about Eczema.

Different cultures have associated different meanings to Eczema. Some of these might be true, but most are just myths with no scientific backing. As we have seen, biological processes are involved in the development of Eczema. The following are common myths and facts, and some frequently asked questions on Eczema.

Myth 1: Eczema is contagious.

Fact: Eczema is not contagious. It is a non-infectious condition that cannot be transmitted from person to person.


Myth 2: Eczema is caused by poor hygiene.

Fact: Eczema is not caused by poor hygiene. It is a complex condition influenced by genetic, immune, and environmental factors. Keeping the skin clean is important, but excessive washing can actually worsen eczema symptoms.


Myth 3: Eczema only affects children.

Fact: While it is true that Eczema often starts in childhood, it can affect individuals of all ages, including adults. Some people may even experience Eczema for the first time in adulthood.


Myth 4: Eczema is the same as psoriasis.

Fact: Eczema and psoriasis are distinct skin conditions with different causes and symptoms. Eczema is characterized by dry, itchy, inflamed skin, while thick, scaly patches of skin characterize psoriasis. Sometimes we may experience scaly skin in Eczema, but this is due to the healing of existing wounds as opposed to the normal characteristics of Eczema. Most scaly eczemas are not as thick as psoriasis.


Myth 5: Eczema can be cured.

Fact: Currently, there is no known cure for Eczema. However, with proper management and treatment, eczema symptoms can be controlled, and flare-ups can be minimized. In some cases, people can even forget about their Eczema. This is a case when they have good skin regimens and follow a well-balanced diet that supports their gut microbiome and immune system.


FAQ 1: Can certain foods trigger Eczema?

While food allergies can contribute to eczema flare-ups in some individuals, they are not the primary cause of Eczema. Common triggers include allergens like dust mites, pollen, pet dander, irritants, and environmental factors. However, It is important to watch out which type of food will worsen your eczema condition and try to avoid it for better management.


FAQ 2: Is stress linked to Eczema?

Stress can exacerbate eczema symptoms in some individuals. Although it is not a direct cause of Eczema, stress can weaken the immune system and trigger flare-ups. Stress can also dysregulate the gut microbiome affecting the gut-skin axis and triggering Eczema.


FAQ 3: Should I avoid using moisturizers if I have Eczema?

Moisturizers are an essential part of eczema management. They help hydrate the skin, maintain the skin barrier, and reduce dryness and itchiness. It is important to choose fragrance-free, hypoallergenic moisturizers and apply them regularly.


FAQ 4: Can Eczema be prevented?

While eczema flare-ups can be prevented, the regimen to prevent Eczema might be impossible to adhere to in a normal person. However, there are certain measures that you can follow to help reduce the risk of flare-ups. These include identifying and avoiding triggers, keeping the skin well-moisturized, using mild soaps and detergents, using lukewarm water, and maintaining a healthy lifestyle.


FAQ 5: Is there a link between eczema and asthma/allergies?

Yes, there is a connection between Eczema, asthma, and allergies. They are part of a group of conditions known as the atopic triad. Individuals with Eczema are more likely to develop asthma or allergies, and vice versa, due to shared genetic and immune system factors.


Conclusion

Understanding the science behind Eczema is essential for developing effective treatments and improving the lives of those affected by this chronic skin condition. Research continues to shed light on the genetic, immunological, and environmental factors that contribute to eczema development and flares. By unravelling the mysteries of Eczema, scientists and medical professionals strive to provide better management strategies and ultimately find a cure for this common and challenging condition.

Even though this article has a lot of useful information, it is important to consult a healthcare professional for accurate data and personalized advice regarding eczema diagnosis, treatment, and management.

Further Readings:

Bieber T. Atopic dermatitis: an expanding therapeutic pipeline for a complex disease. Nat Rev Drug Discov. 2022 Jan;21(1):21-40. doi: 10.1038/s41573-021-00266-6. Epub 2021 Aug 20. PMID: 34417579; PMCID: PMC8377708.

Brown SJ, Irvine AD. Atopic Eczema and the filaggrin story. Semin Cutan Med Surg. 2008 Jun;27(2):128-37. doi: 10.1016/j.sder.2008.04.001. PMID: 18620134.

Caubet JC, Eigenmann PA. Allergic triggers in atopic dermatitis. Immunol Allergy Clin North Am. 2010 Aug;30(3):289-307. doi: 10.1016/j.iac.2010.06.002. PMID: 20670814.

De Pessemier B, Grine L, Debaere M, Maes A, Paetzold B, Callewaert C. Gut-Skin Axis: Current Knowledge of the Interrelationship between Microbial Dysbiosis and Skin Conditions. Microorganisms. 2021 Feb 11;9(2):353. doi: 10.3390/microorganisms9020353. PMID: 33670115; PMCID: PMC7916842.

Lee AY. Molecular Mechanism of Epidermal Barrier Dysfunction as Primary Abnormalities. Int J Mol Sci. 2020 Feb 11;21(4):1194. doi: 10.3390/ijms21041194. PMID: 32054030; PMCID: PMC7072774.

Lee JH, Son SW, Cho SH. A Comprehensive Review of the Treatment of Atopic Eczema. Allergy Asthma Immunol Res. 2016 May;8(3):181-90. doi: 10.4168/aair.2016.8.3.181. PMID: 26922927; PMCID: PMC4773205.

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